The approval by the Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals at Karachi is an essential preliminary to the import of LNG from Qatar. However, the terminals approved have a total capacity of 1000 million cubic feet a day (mmcfd), against the agreement of 500 mmcfd, which means that more LNG can be imported, whether from another exporter, or by expanding the current agreement. The three projects, costing a total of between $425 million and $490 million, would be completed in between 22 and 30 months. Engro and SSGC will have dedicated terminals, which shows that the imported LNG will have two distinct uses; domestic use and urea production. Pakistan is already having to import urea, with the committee noting that the Industries Ministry had floated two tenders for importing 100,000 tonnes of urea on emergency basis, with one being opened on Monday. This means there will be less pressure on the use of Iranian gas, and it will be easier to destine it for transmission to the power plants, which will use it in place of oil, and thus will be able to generate much-needed power cheaper. While Iran is the subject of American ire, this is not the case with Qatar, which is accounted one of its closest allies in the region. The USA thus is supportive of the LNG import, just as much as it opposes the IP gas pipeline.

It is interesting that the ECC considered this issue at the same time as the Prime Minister stressed the utility of the Kashgar-Gwadar Economic Corridor, because it showed that, while the corridor is seen both in terms of road and rail, it should also be seen as providing multiple options. It is generally known that China needs Middle Eastern hydrocarbons, and it is not hidden from anyone that Gwadar plays an important role in this. Gwadar is also a second port for Pakistan, so any new facilities at Karachi will not have to be built at Gwadar, and will thus mean that China can use the port all the more. At the same time, it also has to be ensured that the Pakistani hydrocarbon network, of fuel and petrol lines, is capable of playing its due role in the economic corridor, which the Prime Minister was right in characterising as the future.

The LNG projects show that there may be infrastructural issues in any agreement, and they must be removed. Till these projects are completed, it will not be able to import LNG from Qatar. That LNG might play a preliminary role in resolving the energy shortage, but it is nevertheless a crucial role.